When my twins brought Kylee and Landon to visit me at my apartment, my two loving grandchildren full of delight asked if we could go to the Chattanooga Zoo. I had not been to a zoo in over 20 years, having vowed never to go again. It was the monkeys' fault, actually. Visiting the Knoxville Zoo, being pregnant with my youngest son, I was fascinated with the chimpanzees! They are so human-like and I loved watching them. My twins liked them too.
Then one of the larger chimps did something that horrified me and yet I could not take my eyes off of him as he committed his dastardly act! He bent over; his rear end facing me, took his long black finger inserting it and flipped feces! It was as though it was slow motion as I watched him and my thoughts were, “What…what is he doing there…is …is he doing what I think?” And when my thoughts were confirmed, I covered my mouth with my hands as if that were going to hold back my reaction.
Being pregnant, my reaction was none other than to lose my lunch. I quickly took my hand-covered-mouth-self over to a grassy area and in front of God and everybody I threw up. I decided that monkeys were nasty. I did not ever need to settle my curiosity of exotic animal life again and I stayed away from the zoo. You would think I would have the same problem with horses, but I never have. For some reason, that never bothered me. In fact, I love the smell of a barn. But horses don’t have fingers either.
When you have two wide-eyed, smiling grandchildren whom you adore looking up at you hopeful that you will say yes… I ask… how can you dare say “no”? My twins, sensing my hesitation, promised me that the Chattanooga Zoo was a nice zoo and the monkeys behave. So off we go to the zoo. I really do like animals. Being a nature girl, animals are a big part of beauty in our world - I just planned to not stay too long watching the monkeys. My favorite part was actually watching my grandchildren.
They were excited to show Gramama everything about the zoo! They had zoo memberships and knew it like the back of their hand. Landon wanted me to go this way and Kylee wanted me to go that way! I said, “Hold on, I will follow you both!” I put both legs in opposite directions and made a ‘struggling’ face and Landon had to stop for a second and laugh at his Gramama. I like giving them an opportunity to figure out for themselves why “instant excitement” sometimes needs a chance to pause and think things through. I followed Landon’s path first and we all went to see the huge turtles.
They looked prehistoric! As I was snapping away with my camera, Landon shouted out, “Look! Those two turtles are fighting!”- If you can imagine two humongous turtles, slo-o-o-wly pushing each other with their um … beaks? Lips? I’m not sure, but I whispered to Kylee, “I-I-I-I-I think they are kissing.” Kylee smiled at me and added, “Maybe they are boyfriend and girlfriend.” It was fun “being girls together” inside our own imaginations. The little girl hidden inside of me is four. That age is when I have my most fond memories of childhood and Kylee actually looks a lot like I did as a little girl. The two four-year-old girls giggled at our romantic notions.
We soon came upon the monkeys who were behind glass and seemed harmless. One was content drinking water from the fountain and the other was eating leaves from a branch. “Okay,” I snapped a picture, “Let’s go look at something else,” I suggested quickly. Safe. I was taking in the differences with my boy/girl grandchildren.
I watch Landon, whom I nicknamed “Sport,” and am reminded of my own three boys when they were little. I knew God gave me boys for a reason because in my twenties I was not a girlie girl. I didn’t have much patience with chattering girls nor did I want to play dolls. I liked jumping fences, tackling each other in football, playing cops and robbers and I was on my own personal mission to be anything but a girlie girl (even though deep inside I was).
I collected knives, I liked guns and I lifted weights. I didn’t have many girlfriends; I mainly hung out “with the guys” because they talked about the cool stuff. I didn’t trust women who seemed to want to compete with me or worse, gossip and backbite. Young women, just like young men, are busy trying to figure out who they are and it seems we defy what we are and fight against it.
In my thirties, I began a journey of womanhood and decided that I liked being girlie. I began to trust women friends who were maturing as we all were mothers and learned what was important in this world. I began to embrace being a girlie girl. Now in my forties, I enjoy “having a little girl” to borrow. She is so much like I am in personality too that it tickles me to see her do the things that I used to do. It’s so darling to see her twirl in a dress, to pose for the camera or to make funny faces and make people laugh.
I did not care if while making faces I didn’t look very pretty as long as I made someone laugh. In fact, one of my best faces that I used to do was of… a monkey. I would put my tongue over my front teeth and under my top lip and close my mouth. Then I would get my aggressive brow look going and dart my eyes. I would scratch my head and drape my other arm as I hunched over and made gorilla noises.
Oh yeah…. And what always drove my sisters crazy was how I could flare my nostrils while doing this full monkey posturing. I didn’t care if I was ugly, I made people laugh. I see this same thing with Kylee. She is so fun and free-spirited and comfortable being who she is that I will adore watching her grow up.
I watched Landon as he was constantly on an adventure. In his little five-year-old mind, he is a lot bigger than he actually is. He knows his limitations though. There are certain things that he will attempt, such as getting inside a boat in one of the rooms at the zoo and play with the fishing net as his imagination takes off. But when it came to brushing the goats, he decided these creatures that were as tall as he and his sister and had mouths and fur - was not the adventure he wanted to be on.
Both of them are so well-behaved, it is such a joy to be around them. Landon wanted to ride the “Cara-go-round”. Not knowing the difference between a merry-go-round and a carousel, he made sure to get his point across. When it was time to leave, Landon and Kylee were ready for their next adventure, “Can we go to the park now?” For just a second, I was four again remembering the liveliness I was filled with and the need to constantly be entertained.
Then I was drawn back to being “Gramama” wondering the same thing I used to hear my grandparents say, “Where do you get all that energy?” A day at the zoo turned out to be a fun day after all. No monkey mishaps.